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Dear Miss Manners: As I was conversing with a girl I work with, a male employee I barely know walked up to me from behind and began massaging my shoulders. I was shocked and said, "I didn't ask for this" - but not rudely. I didn't even know who it was until he walked behind the girl I was speaking to and began massaging her shoulders. She responded by groaning and rolling her eyes in ecstasy. I sensed that my conversation with her was over and walked away wondering if I was unfriendly for wanting the guy to get his hands off me when he was just trying to be nice. Massaging shoulders is obviously his way of saying, "Hello, nice to see you."
Dear Miss Manners: We, the jobless minority, expect to be rejected most of the time. And we do not blame companies for this. However, I have observed a proliferation of ungracious behavior from people with whom I have come in contact during my career quest. Few people realize that even though they may not be in a position to hire anyone, they can offer much valuable information to job seekers. Information such as contact names, names of companies that they have heard are hiring, critical advice on tactics or detailed information about inroads into a company are sincerely appreciated. I have faced an onslaught of probing personal questions, such as "What is the most difficult thing you have ever done in your life?" Is the true answer to this question work-related for anyone? I have been asked questions that seem to beg insincere replies, such as "What is your worst fault?" (I have been advised to respond with a fault that is really a positive characteristic - "I am too much of a perfectionist.") This strikes me as dishonest, and I don't like to engage in competitions in which the dishonest prevail. Interviews are for assessing qualifications and professionalism, not psychology. To discover a person's true character, try his or her references.
Dear Miss Manners: My wife and I are dismayed by a perplexing phenomenon we have dubbed the "reverse invitation." This occurs when an invitation is proposed over the telephone by Party A to Party B - for example, "We'd like to have you and your family over for dinner."
Dear Miss Manners: On a trip, I stopped to have lunch at a famous rooftop restaurant and saw a sign indicating that I was half an hour too late. But I saw people waiting for the elevator and thought what the heck, I'd just go to the top, look at the view, and then find another place to eat. When the elevator opened at the restaurant, it was full of people dining and I approached a lady whom I took to be the hostess and asked, "Are you still serving lunch?"
Dear Miss Manners: Our lovely opera (four fine productions a season) recently had its first Sunday matinee in years. We took our 14-year-old; it was her first time. My family was in "business casual." She took one look at the gentlemen in suits and ladies in evening dresses, who were 90 percent of the audience, and promptly declared herself underdressed. At the intermission, our resplendent burghers repaired to the bar for Scotch and champagne (at 3:30 p.m.)
Dear Miss Manners: An old friend and I meet every few months for lunch, and one time she telephoned the restaurant 50 minutes after our appointment to say she was going to be late. I said we would have to reschedule, as my lunch hour was at an end. I understand that business people may have emergencies, so I ignored the unpleasant experience of waiting alone. After she confirmed a recent lunch date, at a restaurant only two storefronts from her office (I had to walk three blocks in the pouring rain to get there), I sat there for half an hour and finally telephoned her office. She said she was with her accountant and the time got away from her, but she would wrap up the meeting and come over. I replied that by the time she arrived and ordered, I would have to leave, so it would not be worthwhile.
Dear Miss Manners: Is it incorrect to leave an event when a speaker is still talking? I ask because I attended a luncheon with a speaker, and quietly excused myself before she was finished. I was sitting next to the door, and the room was very big. Nobody noticed that I left, because many others were leaving, too. Was this rude? Gentle Reader: The speaker noticed, Miss Manners promises you. The speaker thought it was rude. Looking up from a podium and facing even one disappearing back, instead of a collection of faces beaming with breaking enlightenment is one of life's disheartening experiences. However, Miss Manners is willing to judge the situation disinterestedly. What were the circumstances? If the speaker had been asked to talk for 40 minutes and was well into her second hour, or if the auditorium was on fire, it would be permissible to leave. People overcome with coughing fits or going into labor are also excused. In large groups, and in all-day sessions where there are many speeches, there may also be some unavoidable exits. These should be made inconspicuously, and your definition of leaving with others so that you are not the sole focus of attention does not qualify. Anyone who anticipates having to leave early should sit near the door and go quickly and quietly.
Dear Miss Manners: I am an older lady, and I go to church a little early each Sunday so that I can sit at the end of a pew next to the aisle. I graciously stand to allow others to enter the pew. Quite often, people, particularly the ones rushing in late, want me to move over. Sometimes they are rude, especially when the congregation is standing and singing the first hymn. Am I being rude to maintain my seat? I always move back in my place to allow them to pass in front of me.
Dear Miss Manners: Having witnessed many job departures - whether for retirement or to a new job location - in my military career and since in civilian life, I know they can be done poorly. A few short incidents will illustrate the point: At a small lunch to bid farewell to a popular NCO leaving for a new assignment, she stood up to acknowledge the gifts and warm farewell sentiments and said, "I'm leaving and never coming back." Then she sat down. Admittedly, this woman had had some difficulties at this location, with her children's school and illnesses, but this less-than-gracious goodbye left the audience feeling shortchanged on the niceties, if not outright insulted because their friendship (not to mention gifts and time and effort to honor her) were not acknowledged.
Dear Miss Manners: What is a racist? How does one respond when charged with racism? Is there a defense, or is it like medieval witchcraft? If you float you're a witch? If you drown, you might have been innocent, but at least you're not a problem any more. The people who make these accusations have no interest in my fate, but the question being raised, even without evidence, jeopardizes my career. Can you help? I consider myself a fair person, but I'm truly disturbed and feel completely defenseless.
Dear Miss Manners: I am investigating setting up a local film usenet on a new computer network as an extension of my classic/foreign film discussion group that meets once a month at the local art and culture center. The club president and discussion leader encourages politeness and respect for the opinions of others while welcoming thoughtful points of view after a showing of the film of the month. A usenet, short for users' network, is a computer discussion group or forum where people can read messages, post messages and reply to the messages posted by others. Unlike electronic mail, where the message can only be read by the person to whom it is directed, messages can be posted or read by anyone accessing the forum.
Dear Miss Manners: This year my brother moved away from home to college. His room is bigger, so my mom was going to move me into it. My brother found out and said "No way." Would it be polite to just kick my brother out like this, or should we wait awhile?
Dear Miss Manners: Since the company I work for installed a network linking all the PCs, some intracompany communication that used to occur over the telephone or in memorandums now takes place in the form of electronic mail. E-mail seems to be less formal than a memorandum, more concise than a telephone call, and is delivered faster than a handwritten note sent through intracompany mail. What is appropriate for the tone, style and level of formality in business electronic mail? Some people have personalized their e-mail by making the background and text different colors (blue type on a bright red background). Other people use emoticons such as this: :-)
Dear Miss Manners: As my date arrived at my pied-a-terre for a dinner party in honor of two of our dearest friends, who have just announced a blessed event, her cellular phone rang. For more than a quarter of an hour, she proceeded to conduct business with a colleague calling from Hong Kong. While I understand that international business pays no attention to clocks, it was a strain for me to toss the salad and speak to my other guests in whispered tones as she carried on with matters of the day.
Dear Miss Manners: My wife and I have an ongoing conflict that may seem childish and petty, but it is grating on my nerves. My dear partner likes to pop bubble gum at the most inappropriate time. After a year in Vietnam, 18 years as a police officer and being a victim of Addison's disease for five years, it is difficult to understand why she likes to aggravate me. It's the noise that gets to me, especially when we are in bed and I am trying to sleep. I have told her it's rude and inconsiderate. She tells me I have no right to tell her what she can or cannot do.
Dear Miss Manners: Over a period of 15 years, very close, very dear friends have invited me for drinks and dinner frequently. The evenings are always enjoyable, but with only two exceptions when they had house guests for several days, the menu has always been the same. After drinks with no hors d'oeuvres, there is some form of pasta, usually accompanied by meatballs and Italian sausage. Never, ever a knife-and-fork dish of meat and fresh vegetables. There are interesting pasta dishes that incorporate meat, vegetables, poultry or seafood, but these dishes are beyond their ability or imagination. I'm talking about spaghetti, lasagna and ravioli, the latter two I'm certain bought frozen in large pans.
Dear Miss Manners: My husband and I have been separated for a year and a half and are engaged in a miserable legal battle. I want a divorce. He says I will never succeed in divorcing him. He says I will fail in my attempt to end our marriage. He says he wants to stay married forever, because he needs to take care of me. And he does not want a divorce on his record, which I think is the main issue - his record. My question is not whether to shoot him or not - I figured that out for myself. My question is what to call him when I describe him to people. I can't call him my husband without explaining that we don't actually live as man and wife. I can't call him my former, or my ex-husband, because we are, in fact, married.
Dear Miss Manners: On her return from a trip overseas, my girlfriend brought me a bottle of liquor that is a specialty of the country she visited. I was very pleased and indicated my appreciation. The problem is that immediately after delivering the gift, she informed me that she was terminating our relationship. I know that she felt she was being thoughtful, but is it proper to bring your significant other a gift on the same visit that you announce that you are dumping him/her?
My long practice on business letters has been to omit the greeting entirely, and start out at once with what I have to say, as I have done with this letter. The letter title block, including the address, functions as a greeting, so an additional greeting serves no purpose. I have never had anyone object. Nor has anyone ever complained because I omit a "complimentary close" and merely sign my name right after my message ends. French-language letters make such a big thing of greetings and closings that they run about one-quarter longer than English language letters. Invariably such canned phrases are simply ignored.
Dear Miss Manners: I belong to a local writers group that meets to read our works aloud and receive feedback from fellow writers. There is one man I don't exactly hit it off with. We had both been asked to judge a high-school writing contest and couldn't agree on a winner. He discarded all of the manuscripts that I liked, and I liked only three of his - and since then we have been cool to each other. When I began reading a short story to the group, this man stood up as I was in the middle and walked out of the room (to go to the restroom, I presume). Am I right to feel insulted? He had plenty of time to go before I started reading my story. And as I'm not known for reading lengthy works, I'm sure he could have waited until I'd finished. I feel he did this as a deliberate slight.